Any Dream Will Do

Saturday, May 26, 2007 by

You pays your money and you likes it or lumps it.

Such is the problem with, but also the reason behind, Any Dream Will Do. If it doesn’t bother you, or you’ve no intention of going to see the show’s winner on the West End stage, or you simply like watching audiences shrieking, this dilemma won’t matter. But if you don’t want to accept the show as a perma-grinned bearpit and wish to treat it as a television programme – always a dangerous move – then this multi-coloured extravaganza that has supposedly “revolutionised musical theatre in Britain” (© Lord Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) reassembles itself as a suitably Biblical-sized cartload of troubles.

First among these, and the most unavoidable, are the assorted quirks and obsessions of presenter Graham Norton.

Verbally, he’s a law unto nobody, let alone the English language. Where most people would simply go “er”, Norton opts for a discombobulated yelp strung out over five syllables: “eee-rrr-ehhh-rrrr-aahhh”. And where most people would use such an utterance to plug a hole in a sentence, Norton deploys his own version as a kind of burlesque full stop. To wit: “The suspense is killing me, eee-rrr-ehhh-rrrr-aahhh.” Or: “Joseph is a story of a man who is adored by everyone, a bit like celebrity judge Doctor Who‘s John Barrowman, eee-rrr-ehhh-rrrr-aahhh.”

This aggressively irritating habit wouldn’t call so much attention to itself were any of Norton’s other contributions to the show equally ear-catching. Instead he contents himself with churning out cliché after cliché, which he repeats until they have lost all meaning and become simply bursts of static to fill gaps between the various contestants’ turns.

“One Joseph’s dreams will be ripped at the seams … such a difficult choice … wouldn’t want to be in Andrew’s shoes … the biggest and most coveted role in theatreland … can’t believe the journey these Josephs have been on.” And on and on, insufferably. “At this stage,” Norton bawls, “the competition couldn’t be closer.” Well, quite. It is a knockout competition after all. “Call this number,” he yells repeatedly, before adding, “but please, don’t call.”

Does it matter? Chances are most people watching at home or in the studio are utterly oblivious to Norton, having trained their subconscious to filter out everything except the show’s raw ingredients: a) shouting, b) singing and c) smiling. And here’s that dilemma again. Perhaps it is a mistake to watch Any Dream Will Do as a television programme with a host, guests and performers. There’s precious little fun to be had if you do. After all, if you don’t join in with the a) shouting, the b) singing doesn’t mean anything and accordingly the c) smiling just appears stupid.

It’s even less fulfilling, however, to watch Any Dream Will Do as a display of musicianship. From a purely technical point of view, quite how this particular bunch of contestants has made it this far in the competition is utterly baffling. None of them seems blessed with a voice that would be able to deliver a controlled performance of an hour and a half’s worth of stylistically varied, emotionally challenging tunes, never mind do it eight times a week. Yet the winner will be appearing in a show for which people will have to stump up money to attend. Big money at that, given the fact Lord Lloyd Webber is trying to pay off the largest mortgage in Britain.

Neither do any of the finalists display what Tony Hatch used to proudly proclaim “star quality”. Of the five competing in this quarter-final, two seemed hopelessly timid, one desperately vain, one too eager to please and one unambiguously inoffensive. Yet it was the latter that got sent packing by Lloyd Webber for, apparently, “smiling”. This, on a show where a perma-grin is paramount!

But hold on, for his crime was actually to smile “in the wrong place.” That is, during a cover version of Suspicious Minds, ostensibly chosen as a vehicle that would allow its performer the chance to display the emotion of betrayal. This reasoning alone was farcical. One of the easiest songs to sing in the world – even Gareth Gates had a hit with it – its clumping rhythm, lolloping words and lumpen melody defied even Elvis the chance to exhibit anything other than good-natured lechery. And hence, caught in a crossfire of karaoke ebullience and the ubiquitous audience hooting, our man let slip a grin. Heresy!

Upon such arbitrary factors the course of Any Dream Will Do turns. Again, it’s probably wrong to dwell too long upon them. To do so is to presuppose the whole thing is being staged and executed on the public’s terms. It isn’t. It’s being run purely for Lloyd Webber to find a winner of his programme who will go on to play the lead in his musical in one of his London theatres.

At least with How Do You Solve aProblem Like Maria? the scent of nepotism was diffused by the fact the Lord hadn’t actually written The Sound of Music, merely snapped up the rights. That, and the way the lead role suited a mature woman rather than a lairy adolescent, leant proceedings a bit more decorum.

There’s a top C in the score of The Sound of Music that the character of Maria has to hit night after night; it’s a good octave above what most females can comfortably reach. Such demands necessitate a degree of experience and control of the kind that you’ll never get on Any Dream Will Do, where someone can come on and scream their way through Paint it Black and have the panel declare it “the performance of the series”. Yet the audience keep cheering and the perma-grins never falter and the nation keeps paying its money to vote for people Lloyd Webber will boot off the show at the earliest opportunity.

To which there’s only one response: eee-rrr-ehhh-rrrr-aahhh.


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